Community Media: Selected Clippings – 12/03/07

Comcast stations to shut down
Municipalities are left scrambling to produce broadcasts
by Shannon Murphy
Times Herald (MI)

Local municipalities, such as Port Huron and Marysville, have been scrambling this week to make sure their city council meetings still will be broadcast on public access channels next year.  As part of Comcast’s move to have public access shows broadcast in digital formatting, the company is closing its Michigan studios that tape and broadcast those meetings….

Included in the closings is the Channel 12 studio in New Haven, which broadcasts in St. Clair and northern Macomb counties, Channel 12 station manager Robbin Torrey said.  The station, along with 12 others across the state, will cease operations Dec. 14. That means after that date, Comcast no longer will film board meetings.  Torrey said he and his staff typically tape meetings for the Port Huron City Council, Marysville City Council and the Chesterfield Township Board of Trustees.   —>

AT&T statewide cable franchise round 2: KNS already in their pocket
by R. Neal
KnoxViews (TN)

The AT&T statewide cable franchise bill is headed back to the Tennessee legislature. Not surprisingly, the Knoxville News Sentinel has once again taken the pro-big business, anti-consumer anti-local government position and endorsed it.  I guess AT&T and the KNS are going to keep at this until they wear down opponents of the bill. But just as AT&T and the KNS can trot out the same old propaganda in favor of the bill, opponents can program hotkeys with the same rebuttals from last time around.

KNS: “AT&T claims the legislation will bring competition for cable TV services, which in turn will lower prices for the average customer because of the choices available.”

REALITY: Comcast, Charter, and Knology already operate in the Knoxville market, generating millions in franchise fees for local governments. These companies were able to negotiate local cable franchises and operate them for years. (And that’s not counting satellite providers, who don’t pay franchise fees but do provide competition.) Why can’t AT&T do the same? What’s stopping them? In fact, AT&T has been invited by local governments to submit proposals. Curiously, they haven’t.

KNS: “AT&T has said, however, that local governments will continue to receive franchise fees of up to 5 percent, they will continue to control access to public rights-of-way, and they will continue to have locally produced programming.”

REALITY: With local franchises, communities can negotiate their own franchise fees and included requirements for build-out, customer service and quality standards, and for making local community access channels available. These negotiations can take into account each community’s unique needs. The statewide franchise legislation proposed last time around did not have these requirements or the requirements weren’t as strict. According to the Tennessee County Services Association, “The proposals would set up a single entity that would grant franchising rights, which include local highway rights-of-way usage provisions. The proposal prohibits build out provisions. It also causes problems with consumer protection, public information channels, emergency notification access opportunities, and services to schools and libraries. It also limits our abilities in verifying the accuracy of payments, and our ability to perform meaningful applicant due diligence.”

KNS: “Another aspect of criticism centered on a charge that AT&T would cherry-pick the wealthiest neighborhoods for service, leaving low-income and rural areas to fend for themselves. AT&T answered that it would apply nondiscrimination standards with regard to new entrants and that it has no reason or incentive to redline low-income or minority areas.”

REALITY: From USA Today: “During a slide show for analysts, SBC (now AT&T) said it planned to focus almost exclusively on affluent neighborhoods. SBC broke out its deployment plans by customer spending levels: It boasted that Lightspeed would be available to 90% of its “high-value” customers — those who spend $160 to $200 a month on telecom and entertainment services — and 70% of its “medium-value” customers, who spend $110 to $160 a month. SBC noted that less than 5% of Lightspeed’s deployment would be in “low-value” neighborhoods — places where people spend less than $110 a month. SBC’s message: It would focus on high-income neighborhoods, at least initially, to turn a profit faster.”   —>

Hearing today on ‘cable’ fees
Phone firms say they’re exempt from city control
by John Peck
Huntsville Times (AL)

A high-tech regulatory war is playing out in Huntsville over a revised communications law for cable firms and telecommunication companies wanting to provide service over fiber-optic lines, satellite and other noncable means.  A City Council meeting is scheduled downtown today at 10 a.m. for comment from the companies on the proposed changes.

At issue is whether Huntsville can extend franchise fees and expansion requirements to phone companies hoping to tap into the lucrative video service market. Huntsville cable companies Comcast and Knology already pay franchise fees and operate under expansion requirements to prevent them from “cherry-picking” affluent areas while bypassing others…

The proposal includes a 5 percent franchise fee on gross revenue. It imposes regulatory controls over equipment in city rights of way. It also includes extensive auditing requirements, something that makes both cable and phone companies bristle in a fiercely competitive market. The law would also require free public-access channels for the public, education and government.   —>

How much of your state’s legislation is being drafted by industry?
by Bruce Kushnick
Neiman Watchdog

The American Legislative Council, or ALEC, lets corporations cultivate legislators and win support for industry-written bills while not technically breaking lobbying rules – and paying no taxes. (First of two articles)

Q. The American Legislative Council, or ALEC, is a corporate-funded group that gives large donations and other perks to legislators in states across the country. It writes industry-serving bills that those legislators introduce and get enacted. How many legislators in your state are or were members of ALEC?

Q. How many ALEC-drafted bills, if any, were introduced by legislators in your state? How many were enacted?

Q. ALEC is a tax exempt 501(c)(3) group. Should it be?

In previous articles I discussed Astroturf groups (fake grassroots organizations), co-opted groups (activists that bend to serve donors), and think tanks whose research is aimed at serving the special interests that fund them.

This cast of characters churns out corporate-friendly data. But the real action takes place when laws are passed based on this one-two sucker punch of skewed data and high-priced, propaganda-style marketing — a process to which the public is not invited. The drafting of proposed legislation is often a done deal before the public knows it has begun, much less has a chance for input.

Instead of citizen or grass roots participation there is ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council, a corporate-sponsored group that brings together big business and state legislators in an elite environment of favor and privilege. Activist groups have been exposing the mind-bending tactics and activities of ALEC for years but the mainstream press seems to have almost totally ignored it…

In telecommunications and broadband (my main interests)  ALEC’s private sector members include AT&T, BellSouth, the National Cable and Telecommunications Association, SBC Communications (now merged with AT&T), Sprint, Verizon Communications and more. Other prominent industry members of ALEC include Amoco, Chevron, Texaco, R.J. Reynolds, the American Nuclear Energy Council, the Chlorine Chemistry Council, the American Petroleum Institute, and the Pharmaceutical Research & Manufacturers of America. This article concentrates on ALEC’s telecommunications influence.   —>

Airwaves For Sale!
by Elizabeth Woyke

It’s deadline time at the Federal Communications Commission.  Monday marks the day designated by the FCC for companies to declare their intention to bid for a portion of the wireless spectrum–in particular, a segment widely described as “beachfront property.” At stake is nothing less than the future of wireless communications in the U.S. And that means it’s worth taking a moment to assess who might be contenders–and what they might do if they win.   —>

Vale Dogma Free America
by Arthur Vandelay
Five Public Opinions

Sad news on the atheism/freethought podcasting front: Dogma Free America is no more. It celebrated its fiftieth and final episode on November 22nd, with producer and host Rich Orman claiming that the podcast was taking up too much of his time. DFA’s shows weren’t theme-based or guest-based like Freethought Radio and The Non-Prophets, and mainly consisted on commentary on the latest news concerning magical thinking and theocracy. DFA also canvassed more international (read: non-US) news than other podcasts, and often ran stories on religious violence in sub-Saharan Africa (usually perpetrated against individuals suspected of “witchcraft”), as well as atrocities perpetrated by theocracies in the Islamic world. Hence, Christian listeners might (I imagine) have found it more even-handed than other non-theist podcasts.

For mine, however, the pick of the podcasts is still The Atheist Experience, which is actually a live cable access TV program screening in Austin, Texas. The Atheist Experience, as the site indicates, is “geared at a non-atheist audience,” with a view to clearing up misconceptions about atheism as well as countering religious apologetics (current host Matt Dillahunty is an ex-fundie and his Biblical knowledge is very effective in this regard), addressing church-state separation issues and commenting on the latest in fundamentalist idiocy. Very entertaining–especially when the presenters engage with religious callers.

compiled by Rob McCausland
Alliance for Community Media

Explore posts in the same categories: astroturf, cable vs telco, FCC, government access, municipal programming, PEG access TV, public access television, spectrum auction, video franchising

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